By J.B. Blocker
In honor of September 11, 2001, J.B. Blocker submitted the following story. Those of us who were old enough to remember that terrible, life altering event will never forget.
Late September 2001: The van that carried our team of Disaster Recovery Supervisors carried us to 45th and Madison and the Roosevelt Hotel which would house dozens of us for several months. As we drove through the streets, I was fascinated by the “missing” signs that were plastered on walls, post, fences, and anywhere else a piece of paper could be attached.
It was early in the evening by the time I had settled in to my room. My shift would not begin until noon the next day. It gave me some time to wander over to Grand Central Station just down the street to figure out my route to get to the ‘Red Zone’ where I had been assigned.
I passed a lady with her dog and both of them were wearing small posters with the picture of a man that were like miniature billboards. The lady stopped just in front of me and solemnly stapled a poster to one of the many plywood construction barriers that are prominent in Manhattan. This sheet of plywood, like all the others, was covered with not dozens, but hundreds of similar pages. Pictures of families, couples, and individuals would blanket the city for months. I was amazed at how many included home addresses and list of personal phone numbers. Such was the desperation of those left behind.
After she blew the picture a kiss and slowly walked away, I had to see what she had posted. The photo of a man in his 30’s was followed by a description and contact information including address and phone numbers. The caption read. “Have you seen my husband? Please contact me.” Now, I have very leaky eyes so I could only read a few of the others before I had to step away.
Everywhere you looked a missing person’s poster was duct taped, stapled, or glued. Every street sign, building, and bench had faces peering out for the world to see. Even buses and taxi cabs were now billboards of hope or despair.
I noticed the trancelike sadness of that lady as she looked for another empty space to post her man’s picture. Before long, I had seen several photos repeatedly as I walked into the dark of the night. It came to me that this lady was leaving a memorial, as were the thousands of others leaving these reminders of loved ones who were no longer missing, but lost.
It was the end of the month, and the only ones who might still be found were the few hospitalized and unidentified. But those were few. And even though bodies would still be discovered for many weeks to come, many would never be found. They were in the smoky air that surrounded Ground Zero. They were now part of the earth and sky and millions of tons of debris.
As the night settled in, I saw the lights of Broadway and Time Square to the west and headed in that direction. By now, I was flooded with emotions that were numbing me as I thought about the great loss of not just the life of those on the posters, but also of the parents, spouses, siblings, children, and friends who must be emotionally torn in a million directions. The faces started to jump off the pages at me saying, “I was loved and I am missed.”
One corner of a brick building had a neatly placed display of posters that caught my attention for its orderliness, but by then, I couldn’t read another plea or see another face. They were imprinting on my memory and after having walked many blocks into the night, I could already spot familiar ones by the page colors, size of script, and of course the faces. Some seemed to be meticulously produced, some copied off home and office printers, and many were hand written.
Just past a small garage door was a large garage door and I peered into the darkness through glass panes about head height. The large room was empty. The concrete floors were clean as if freshly mopped and waxed. In the dim light I could see very little of this vast empty space. But way back in the corner an exit light illuminated something familiar. I moved further to another pane and squinted for a better view.
In a flash I recognized the large clothes rack with only two fire fighters suits left hanging. Reality can be hard to see and even harder to take! I stepped back and confirmed what I already knew. High above the doorway polished metallic block lettering identified ENGINE 54, LADDER 4, BATTALION 9!
The great empty space represented fire engines that would never return and the empty rack represented lost heroes!
I walked back to the well organized block of posters. They weren’t the standard “missing / have you seen?” pages. These were ‘In Remembrance’. They were honoring the heroic inner family of lost fire fighters. Some were pictured in uniform, some with their family, and all with a little personal statement. As I stood paying homage to each page, I prayed for the ones left behind. At some point, I heard a strange moaning sound and looked around for the source. But I was alone! That sound was coming from me and I could no longer stand or think or breathe.
I crossed 8th Street, sat on the ground against the wall and looked at the fire house while I gained some composure. I never made it to Time Square that night as I had planned. I didn’t sleep much that night either.
Months later when I had returned to Dallas the image still haunted me.
I continued to seek more information about
Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9
Here is some of what I uncovered about their heroics.
The fire station for Engine 54, Ladder 4 is located near Times Square just two blocks from the Ed Sullivan Theater. Also known as The Broadway Firehouse, their motto is “Never Missed a Performance.” They are one of the busiest in Manhattan, and possibly the world, answering around 14,000 calls every year.
There were 15 firefighters on duty on the morning of September 11. They immediately responded to the site of the World Trade Center complex after the first airliner crashed into the North Tower. When they arrived, they were assigned to help evacuate that tower. As they advanced up the stairwells, they assisted countless victims with injuries ranging from lacerations to smoke inhalation to broken limbs.
On the 18th floor, Engine 54, Ladder 4 firefighters were given a new assignment. Since virtually all 56 elevators in the tower were inoperable, many were trapped inside. Their new task was to locate the elevators, force open the doors and free the frantic occupants.
The small tools the firefighters carried were ineffective for the job. That’s when Michael Lynch came up with the idea to get the Hurst tool, commonly known as the “Jaws of Life,” to get the doors open. The Hurst tool is primarily used at vehicle accident scenes to pry open doors of wrecked cars and trucks. Lynch and his partner went down 18 stories, picked up the Hurst tool and the hydraulic pump, brought it back up and went to work. And that’s what they were doing when the tower collapsed. Of the 15 who answered the call, only 3 survived.
Six months later, the remains of Lynch and his partner were discovered with the Hurst tool at their side. Engine 54 was later found, 50′ below grade. A firefighter crawled into the wrecked cab of the truck and the engine fired up amid cheers at ground zero.
I’ll Never Forget!
Firefighter Jose Guadalupe
Firefighter Leonard Ragaglia
Firefighter Christopher Santora
Firefighter Paul Gill
Captain David Wooley
Lieutenant Daniel O’Callaghan
Firefighter Joseph Angellini, Jr.
Firefighter Samuel Oitice
Firefighter Michael Haub
Firefighter John Tipping
Firefighter Michael Lynch
Firefighter Michael Brennan